Friday, November 12, 2010

What I really thought...

Note to Readers:    You may or may not have read my press release about the Beechwood Restaurant.  At the very wise advice of an acquaintance, Jason Sample, I severely edited the version that went out to the public.  My thoughts and opinions on this, while valid, possibly could have done more damage than good.  People do not like having their shortcomings, their mistakes, etc., pointed out to them.  My goal was to generate an interest in the restaurant, our cuisine, and our services, not to piss anyone off. The original, while passionate, would have done that.  But, I'm still entitled to my opinion so here it is.  If someone from the restaurant happens to check out this blog (unlikely), they will know me well enough to know I wrote this because I believe in Chef Mills, what he is trying to do and....well, you know.  So, here it is.

         Not so very long ago there was a man from this area that had a dream.  It wasn’t a huge dream.  It was small really, compared to many, but it was his.  So, working towards this dream, he went to culinary school at the age of 30 years old, graduated with honors and became a chef in various establishments through the years. Gradually working his way back home to Chautauqua County, he decided to make that dream he had fostered for so many years a reality. 
          Opening a small but lucrative coffee house and café in Jamestown, Chef Timothy Mills successfully demonstrated his talents and knowledge of fine and eclectic cuisine.  Timothy’s Café become a downtown icon of sorts, offering entrées not often found anywhere else in the county. Timothy’s Café was a place to get a cheerful “Good Morning” and an absolutely fabulous cup of coffee, latte, or cappuccino; a breakfast pannini, a bagel, or an extraordinary breakfast wrap.  Guests would check out the lunch specials in advance, whether in person or on his website, knowing that there was a limited supply of this fantastic food available.  Why?  Because Chef Timothy prepared each entrée à la minute-loosely translated as “by the minute” or more to the point-by the order.
          As time went on, Chef Mills spent four years serving the general public, conducting exclusive private dinners at the café, catering on site and off until one day, opportunity knocked in the form of an establishment in Lakewood coming up for sale.  A very well-known restaurant and pub for decades and a historic landmark, it seemed the logical next step towards that dream of his. 
Taking possession of The Beechwood Country House Restaurant in February 2010, Tim and his wife Sarah, friend and employee Chelsea Newton, and various others spent many, many hours doing grubby, dirty work refurbishing, remodeling and restoring this landmark to an acceptable operating condition once again. With high hopes and confidence, Tim and Sarah Mills opened The Beechwood Country House Restaurant in May under new ownership.
 Happy ending, correct?  Not really.
          Once opened, many people visited the Beechwood at first, even without a liquor license. The Beechwood Country House Restaurant was a successful family owned and operated establishment for more than 50 years.  Many in the area had been patrons of the Beechwood for as long as they could remember. Fond memories of family lunches and dinners, Christmas parties and the like, were collectively shared by numerous individuals.  It was still the same cozy, homey place that everyone knew and remembered.  The knotty pine paneling was still there, as well as the fire crackling in the fireplace.  The “regulars” were delighted to see that the restaurant had not changed too much inside.
          Ah, the keyword-change.
          “Change” by definition is “to make or become different” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  Is that a bad thing?  No, it isn’t, yet most of us do not easily accept change.  It’s disconcerting, unsettling and well, frightening at times.  However, change can also be exhilarating, refreshing and pleasurable.  Woodrow Wilson said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something”.  How true that has been found to be with the opening of this restaurant.
           It is a sad fact that many of the past Timothy’s Café customers have not often frequented the restaurant.  Perhaps it is simply because it is not as convenient for them as the establishment on Third Street.  Maybe it’s because the menu and atmosphere has changed just enough that they feel uncomfortable.  Some of the former Beechwood customers have not always come back a second time, even after enjoying a fabulous meal.  Why?
          The “old crowd” from Timothy’s Café are frequently disappointed that they can’t get certain specialty salads and sandwiches, or the multitude of flavored, freshly brewed coffees popular at the café.  In comparison, the former Beechwood group is displeased because the fare is not what they are “used” to at the Beechwood.  There is no free relish tray or the big bowl of mints on the counter. There is no longer a Gorgy salad available.  No one is pleased it seems, despite how many changes and additions that Chef Mills has made to the menu trying to accommodate everyone’s desires.
The former owners and operators of the restaurant did an excellent job for many years, so it is understandable that people want to see and eat the same types of food that the restaurant was known for.  It is understandable that many customers had their favorites from the café as well, and looked forward to continuing to enjoy them.  However, it is this author’s opinion that the local community and a number of patrons from the previous Beechwood and the former Timothy’s Café have not given Mills and the “new” restaurant very much of a chance. 
No, it is not the same old Beechwood food, nor is it the same Timothy’s cuisine.  Why in the world would anyone think that it would be the same as either?  It is a new kind of establishment with a new owner, new décor, new…everything!  How refreshing to see tradition and innovation entwined! 
One drawback for many is the lack of a liquor license.  That will come in time but not without patronage from past patrons of both establishments and the community.  The expense of running a restaurant is not one that many are familiar with. Overhead, food costs, payroll, taxes, etc., are not things one thinks about when ordering dinner in a restaurant. The process of getting a liquor license is also an expenditure that most people have no idea about.  Both are phenomenal expenses for a restaurant owner and an almost impossible enterprise without public support. 
What many don’t recognize is that absolutely everything prepared in the kitchen is prepared fresh, not pre-bought frozen entrées.  Mills uses freshly made pastas-not factory produced.  Each and every entrée is prepared à la minute-as it is ordered.  There is not a big pot of sauce simmering on the stove all evening waiting to be ladled over the pasta.  There is no warmer keeping the chicken hot, it is fried up or grilled to order.   Every item on the menu is prepared after that yellow slip goes into the kitchen from the server’s pad.
Guests are treated with respect and courtesy, the cuisine is fantastic as well as artful and creative. Chef Mills and the staff at the new Beechwood Country House Restaurant are always willing to accommodate dietary needs when possible and truly listen to their customers. 
So, former Beechwood and Timothy’s Café customers, take note!  Just because everything seems so different, how much have things really changed?  Is the lack of one or two particular items on the menu or the lack of an alcoholic beverage truly all that important when there is so much more offered as a scrumptious alternative?
Life can often get awfully dull and humdrum, and so can food.  Do yourself and your palate a favor and give the new owner and chef of The Beechwood Country House Restaurant a chance. Experience and embrace some change in your lives!  You won’t be disappointed.

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